A Mena resident who found the only money recovered from the famous 1971 D.B. Cooper plane hijacking and robbery is preparing to sell what is left of his bounty.
Brian Ingram, who is now 34 years old, came across a buried bundle of twenty-dollar bills in 1980 while camping with his family on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state.
“We were going to make a campfire,” Ingram said during a telephone interview. “My dad was getting ready to put the wood down, and I was smoothing the sand. That’s when I found what felt like old newspaper.”
Nine years earlier, a man who came to be known only as “D.B. Cooper” hijacked a Northwest Orient flight from Portland to Seattle and threatened to blow it up unless he received $200,000 cash and four parachutes. When the plane landed in Seattle, he released all of the passengers but ordered the pilots to take him back into the air with his money and parachutes. Then, in the midst of harsh winds and freezing rain, the man jumped off the plane with his booty and was never seen again. The crime remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of modern times.
So when the eight-year-old Ingram dug up the stash of twenties, he unwittingly came to possess the only material evidence in a case that had stymied the F.B.I.
His parents contacted the local police and read off the serial numbers from the bills, which matched those given to D.B. Cooper. The F.B.I. then took custody of the money until 1986, when a court divided it among Ingram, the F.B.I., and Northwest Airlines and its insurance company. Of the $5,800 he found, Ingram was allowed to keep almost $3,000.
By that time, the bills had substantially deteriorated and were valuable mainly as souvenirs from a famous episode in history. Ingram moved to Mena 12 years ago because he has family in the area, and he kept the money in a safe-deposit box at a local bank.
Now he is looking to sell it to collectors, and he is retaining as counsel Danny Thrailkill, a Mena attorney who is best known for securing the largest verdict in an Arkansas nursing home case.
“I just think it is time to do something with them,” Ingram said, pointing out that he is settling down and starting a family. “Our family had time to hold on to them for a while and look back on it. It’s just time to let the public know about them.”
Ingram is selling the entirety of the bills with readable serial numbers, which includes only 15 “whole bills,” which are deteriorated around the edges, and 10 “half-bills,” which are further gone. He will keep the rest of the money, which amounts to scraps of paper resembling confetti.
Thrailkill would not provide an estimate of what the sale would net, saying only that he is “in the process of obtaining authentication and valuation documents,” and “looking at several auction houses and private investors.”
The prospects for big money should be good, judging from the continued interest in the case. D.B. Cooper’s exploits have been the subject of a movie and countless television programs and news articles through the present day. Ingram says that, over the years, he has been contacted by People magazine, the Discovery Channel and other media.
“It’s a defining part of my life,” he said.
Interestingly, there is another Arkansas connection to the D.B. Cooper episode. The county sheriff who led the manhunt in Washington state retired to Montgomery County years ago and his widow still lives in Norman.